Paragraph Development

 

What is a paragraph?

 

One of the central components of an essay or a paper is the paragraph. You may think that a paragraph is ideally 5 sentences put together, or a paragraph has a topic sentence , etc. But the essential definition of a paragraph is " It is a group of sentences or a single sentence that forms a unit” (Lunsford and Connors, 1995, p.116). In this definition the term “unit” or “unity” is the most important element. It is the unity and coherence among the sentences that makes a paragraph a paragraph.

 

What is meant by “unity” and “coherence”?

 

Unity – The sentences all refer to the main idea, or thesis of the paper (Rosen and Behrens, 1997, p.119)

 

Coherence - The sentences should be organized in a logical manner and should follow a definite plan of development.

 

In addition to unity and coherence a paragraph should also be well-developed, that is, every idea discussed in the paragraph should be adequately explained and supported through evidence and examples. These ideas, of course, should all work together to explain and support the controlling idea of your essay or paper.

 

Controlling idea

A controlling idea is the main idea, your attitude, your evaluation of something. This controlling idea is expressed/stated in the form of a topic sentence. Just as an essay has a thesis sentence that expresses the controlling idea of the essay, a paragraph has a topic sentence that states the controlling idea for the paragraph. To give an example, you may be asked to write an essay about your dormitory room.

 

The facts about your dorm room may be:

 

 

These are the physical facts about your dorm room. However, how you approach the topic is your own choice. You may think that your room is nice and cozy, or cramped and stuffy. Then, your controlling idea of the essay is developed accordingly. You may write as your thesis sentence:

 

“I like my dorm room because it is nice and cozy.”

“I dislike my bedroom because it is cramped and stuffy.”

 

When you choose, for example, the first thesis sentence, your supporting ideas may be:

 

You will need a separate paragraph to adequately explain and support each idea. Let’s say you are going to write your first developmental paragraph on the idea that your room has a good/convenient location.

Steps in developing a good paragraph:

  1. The first thing you should keep in mind is that the controlling idea is positive, that is, your paragraph is supporting the idea that “you like your dorm room”. This is the controlling idea of your essay, and the controlling idea of the paragraph should match it.

 

  1. Next, your topic sentence of the paragraph should state the controlling idea of the paragraph, which is “the room has a good location.”

 

My dorm room has a very good location in the women’s dormitory building.

 

Do not forget that a topic sentence should

 

  1. Now you must explain why you think your room has a good/convenient location in the dorm. You supports may be:

Explanation 1: It is on the second floor

Example 1: I don’t have to climb too many stairs

                        Example 2: I feel safe because my room is not on the ground floor

 

It is located on the second floor, which means that I do not have to climb too many stairs. I can go down to the study and the canteen, then up to my room again easily. When I forget something or leave my books in the room it is no problem to go back to the room. I also feel safe on the second floor. It is not on the ground floor, and I do not have to worry about thieves climbing into my room through the window, and in case of an emergency we are pretty close to the main exit on the ground floor.

 

Explanation 2: It overlooks the garden

Example 1: I can see some trees and greenery

                        Example 2: It is nice and quiet

 

Another thing I like about my room is it overlooks a small garden at the back of the dorm building. I can see some trees and greenery from my window. It is also nice and quiet at the back of the building. Most of the noise and activity go on in the front, students coming and going, people shouting to each other.  Here at the back we are all far away from that hustle and bustle.

 As you can see, length by itself is not important. The idea should be fully developed. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. After you have completely developed the controlling idea of the paragraph, you need to conclude or round up your paragraph, and maybe also make a transition to the next paragraph.

 

In short, my room has an excellent location and I think I am lucky to have a room like that.

 

Now, your full paragraph looks like this:

 

My dorm room has a very good location in the women’s dormitory building. It is located on the second floor, which means that I do not have to climb too many stairs. I can go down to the study and the canteen, then up to my room again easily. When I forget something or leave my books in the room it is no problem to go back to the room. I also feel safe on the second floor. It is not on the ground floor, and I do not have to worry about thieves climbing into my room through the window, and in case of an emergency we are pretty close to the main exit on the ground floor. Another thing I like about my room is it overlooks a small garden at the back of the dorm building. I can see some trees and greenery from my window. It is also nice and quiet at the back of the building. Most of the noise and activity go on in the front, students coming and going, people shouting to each other.  Here at the back we are all far away from that hustle and bustle. In short, my room has an excellent location and I think I am lucky to have a room like that.

 

As you can see a paragraph is actually a mini essay with its introduction, topic sentence , development and conclusion.

                         

Exercise: Now, you write a paragraph following the same process. Let’s use the same factual data but change the controlling idea. You are going to write about the same dorm room:

 

 

As you can see it is the same room. However, let’s change the controlling idea of the essay from "I like my dorm room" to  “I dislike my dorm room”. When we looked at the room positively we said:

 

1. What are we going to say when we dislike the same room? You write the supporting points in the box below:

 

 

 Now compare your answers with the answers we suggest:

2. You are going to use these supporting ideas to develop your essay. Each supporting idea should be discussed in a separate paragraph. Let's say in your first developmental paragraph you have chosen to write about the location of your room, this time from a negative angle. Remember your topic sentence should say so. Now write your topic sentence in the box below:

 

 

Now compare your answer with the answer we suggest:


What is wrong with the location of my room? Remember we said :

Explanation 1: It is on the second floor

Explanation 2: It overlooks a back garden.

As you can see we can use the same supporting points but the way we treat these facts will be different. Let's take the first point, which is "My room is on the second floor". What disadvantages can you think of ? Why do I not like living on the second floor?

 

Explanation1:  "My room is on the second floor."

Examples: Write your answers here in the box:

 

 

Now check the answers we suggest:


The second explanation is " It overlooks the back garden." What reasons can you think of for not liking the room overlooking a back garden?

Explanation 2: "My room overlooks the back garden."

Examples: Write your examples here in the box:

 

Now compare your answers with the answers we suggest:


Now our final paragraph should look like this:

 

My room in the women's dormitory building couldn't have a worse location. First of all, it is on the second floor which means that it is not high enough. I feel insecure in the room because anybody could climb through the window. Because it is only on the the second floor, the room is not airy enough and the light is not adequate. The rooms on the upper floors are more airy and the light is better on those floors. The second thing I don't like about the location of the room is it overlooks a back garden. I can only see a few trees and shrubs. All the activity goes on at the front, students coming and going, people talking, but I cannot see anything. In short, my room has an awful location and I think I am unlucky to have this room.

 

Summary:

Remember a good paragraph development requires:

1. A controlling idea expressed in the topic sentence

2. Sufficient explanation, that is each explanation should include further details and examples

3. A conclusion

 


References

Lunsford, A. and Connors, R. The St. Martin's Handbook - Annotated Instructor's Edition, New York: St. Martin's, 1995.

Rosen, L. and Behrens, L. The Allyn and Bacon Handbook , Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997.


Written by Zeliha Gulcat, Sept 2004